MADISON (WKOW) -- Since Wisconsin saw the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2020, hospitalizations had been decreasing for four months. But that started to change in late March.

"We are seeing sort of that slow creep with some of the hospitalizations," Nathan Bubenzer, the emergency preparedness manager at UnityPoint Health -- Meriter, said Tuesday.

Data from the Wisconsin Hospital Association shows the uptick started after March 21, and UW Health's Dr. Jeff Pothof said he's noticing the makeup of who is being hospitalized has started to change, too.

"It's still the little bit older population, pre-existing conditions, but as a percentage, younger people are making up a bigger slice," he said.

He said this makes sense because of which age groups have had greater access to COVID-19 vaccines.

"We don't have as much uptake in vaccinations in the in the younger group," Pothof said. "Because they're the group that is having the most infections, we start to see a few more of those young adults having COVID-19 that then requires hospitalization."

But Pothof and Bubenzer both told 27 News they don't believe this upward trend will be anything like the spike from late 2020.

"If things continue the way they are both on the infection side and on the vaccination side, I expect our COVID numbers to stay the same, not surge [and] eventually start to go down again," Bubenzer said.

He said while hospitalization numbers now are very similar to what health care workers were dealing with in March and April 2020, the past year of working through the pandemic has prepared them to better treat the patients.

"We're much more comfortable taking care of these patients because we know what we're doing now," Bubenzer said. "We have a better playbook to be able to to handle the numbers that we're seeing."

Pothof said that all means he's not as concerned about hospital capacity.

"We've been able to manage that volume in a pretty comfortable space within the health systems without having to do creative things like we were last fall," he said. "We do have availability in the hospitals. We can take care of COVID patients."

But Pothof and Bubenzer both said they're carefully watching the data trend to make sure numbers don't keep increasing.

"COVID is so insidious, and I don't need to look any farther than India to know that it can sometimes rock your world," Pothof said.

He said the best protection people can take against an increase in hospitalizations is getting vaccinated.

"There's still a fair number of people who aren't vaccinated, and, unfortunately, they're still very susceptible to COVID-19," Pothof said. The great news now is we have weapons. We can fight back."

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